‘Riser’ – Rob Luft

RobLuft_Riser

GUITARIST Rob Luft packs a lot into his debut, Riser – a quintet release of original music oozing vivacious, sun-kissed creativity. 

Based in London and still in his early twenties, Luft was awarded the 2016 Kenny Wheeler Music Prize whilst, in the same year, also achieving second place in the Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition; and his Big Bad Wolf project’s recent first issue, Pond Life, announced an intelligent approach to composition and performance (despite this album’s title modestly referring to the claim that he’s happier on a stage riser than filling out staves and ledger lines).

A contemporary feel across these fifty minutes reflects the cross-genre interests of a young personnel completed by saxophonist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick. Luft’s guitar distinction is his meticulous technique as colorist, imbuing his music with either a bright, township radiance or becalmed beauty; imaginable hero influences might include Kurt Rosenwinkel, Steve Howe or Steve Hackett as he scampers across the frets in Night Songs, its organ-tremulant vibrancy intimating Weather Report with a Caribbean hook. Beware, full of perky, almost Celtic unison riffs, highlights Luft’s quite astonishing soloing rapidity; and title track Riser is dappled with a rocking-chair guitar quaintness associated with ’70s prog before reaching full-Leslie pop-rocking assuredness.

It’s palpable how many concepts whizz around this quintet, so there’s scant evidence of unnecessarily drawing-out ideas. Different Colours of Silence‘s affecting and serene guitar-and-sax aurora comes to dance energetically to Corrie Dick’s skittering percussion, and the afterglow segue into Dust Settles can’t help eventually whipping up a proud, memorable anthem; yet the constant, meditative, swirling washes of both Blue, White and Dreaming and Slow Potion imply the painterly imagery of soundtrack. There’s fun in the air as bass-grooving Shorty and St. Brian I scream their instrumental chants through honking tenor, wailing guitar, heavily-beaten rhythms and sustained organ; and the Spanish guitar delicacy of extended closer We Are All Slowly Leaving (with immaculate intonation from Luft) accelerates into a dizzying house-beat haze of fluid sax improvisation and searing, clashing guitar clusters.

If these myriad expressions sound at risk of being intangible or incohesive… well, it’s thanks to Rob Luft’s artistic overview that it all actually flows with great continuity, the band’s searching spirit driving the album through swathes of textural interest, warmth and esprit.

Riser? Luft is certainly on that upward trajectory.

Released on 28 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano, harmonium
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1095 (2017)

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‘Guris’ – Jovino Santos Neto & André Mehmari, with Hermeto Pascoal

ArtiosCAD Plot

SUCH INFECTIOUS JOY flows from this exhilarating duo release from Brazilian pianists Jovino Santos Neto and André Mehmari as they celebrate the uniqueness of – and invite as guest – influential composer and musician Hermeto Pascoal on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

Recorded at André Mehmari’s capacious new studio in the hills above São Paulo, the thirteen tracks of Guris were, quite astoundingly, captured over two days without rehearsal; spontaneous interpretations of selections mostly garnered from Pascoal’s prolific output. Indeed, the apparent warmth of the experience is expressed through the opening lines of the album’s sleeve notes: ‘This music contains raindrops falling in the forest, laughter, delicious food and coffee, reverence for a true musical master, instant discovery of an ancient friendship, one hundred and seventy-six keys, two pianos joined together…”

There’s always a risk that head-to-head piano collaborations might become endlessly bombastic or over-saturated. But, across these sixty-seven minutes, Santos Neto and Mehmari become one, elegantly balancing fervour, delicacy and space so that their creativity becomes intertwined – so much so that even the players themselves are unable to separate their own voices in these resulting, amiable conversations in music! And the soundscapes are beautifully varied, enhanced by melodica, flute, harmonium, Fender Rhodes and bandolim.

A sunshiny, South American vibe is instantly recognisable – from the animated, melodic swagger of Pascoal’s Samba Do Belaqua to Santos Neto’s own Tambô d’Oshó, crammed with syncopated chordal verve, impossibly crossing triplets and rippling improvisations. But then, as dappled light through the treetops, Bailando Com Cerveja‘s Bachian openness charms, as does affecting slow piano waltz Certeza (Certainty), the emotional weight of Santos Neto’s melodica perhaps channelling Joe Zawinul (this piece written upon the realisation of Jaco Pastorius’ passing). And both pianists pictorialise so well a gradual avian migration in Andorinhas (Swallows), their abstract chatterings becoming more elongated and structured towards distant horizons.

The resonant, breathy flute of Santos Neto is a feature of André Mehmari’s romantic Baião Da Sorte – a joyous, theme-tune-like outing of memorable phrases and delightful interplay; and the composer’s crisp bandolim tones in Pro Hermeto (written and dedicated to the great man by a fourteen-year-old Mehmari) are complemented by Santos Neto’s chromatic flourishes. The pianists’ intuitive, shared response to two of Pascoal’s festal pieces, Dois Santos and Jorge E Antonio, is breathtakingly magical (stand-outs, if one could choose); and Acordando Com Os Acordes‘ brash, symphonic origins (with shades of Bartók) are superbly and angularly realised.

In wistful harmonium tune Igrejinha (Little Church) and impetuous baião Jovino Em Realengo, Hermeto Pascoal’s eccentric croonings, sputterings and gurglings through a water-filled kettle are unexpected, yet they somehow confirm the affectionate and adventurous bond between these musicians; and an unstoppable, scurrying Fender Rhodes momentum in title track Guris (Boys) captures the unquenchable spirit of Pascoal (Hermeto’s own melodica solo in Aquela Valsa is also typically effusive!).

There are so many treasures which can unfold from this absorbing session as it finds its way to your heart; and personally speaking, it currently seems to be lodged right there.

Released on 21 July 2017, and beautifully presented as a CD with background notes to each track, Guris is available from Amazon and other retailers.

 

Jovino Santos Neto piano, melodica, flute
André Mehmari piano, harmonium, Fender Rhodes, bandolim
with special guest
Hermeto Pascoal teakettle, melodica

jovisan.net

Adventure Music – AM11082 (2017)

‘Caipi’ – Kurt Rosenwinkel

caipi

PHILADELPHIA-BORN, Berlin-resident jazz guitarist/keyboardist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s career is especially associated with influential artists such as Gary Burton, Paul Motion, Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter. So the sunshiny, vocal emphasis of his new release Caipi comes as something of a surprise. Yet it’s a surprise which prompts fascination, increasing endearment and positivity. 

Rosenwinkel suggests that it’s taken a decade to make this album a reality – and whilst it’s very much a solo album (the composer playing guitars, bass, piano, synth and drums throughout, and also occasionally taking lead vocal), he also welcomes a number of guests to provide a panoply of textures, including appearances from saxophonist Mark Turner and vocalist/lyricist Amanda Brecker. There’s even a subtle cameo from Eric Clapton, who describes Rosenwinkel as “a genius – he really is”; and the album’s decidedly effervescent South American flavours (‘Caipirinha’ being a Brazilian/Portuguese cocktail) are enhanced by the intriguing vocal timbres of young Brazilian singer/instrumentalist Pedro Martins.

This full hour’s eleven-track diversity might initially be perplexing, especially for fans of the guitarist’s instrumental-jazz back catalogue. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the naive frailty of Pedro Martins’ gentle voice; and though Rosenwinkel’s straight vocal delivery may be reminiscent of ’70s prog instrumentalists who came from behind the frontman’s shadows to sing for their own solo projects, it’s these constantly fluctuating points of difference, plus a tangible homely quality, which attracts. The background to this bold, intentional move is explained thus: “Writing songs with lyrics has always been very much a part of musical world, but they’ve usually stayed in my private sphere. With Caipi, I realised that these were also lyric songs and that ultimately I would sing them as well. It’s definitely something different from my other albums, but it’s a familiar place for me and it was just a matter of doing what the music needed”.

A sultry bossa nova influence is there from the opening of the title track, its wordless backing vocals and flute-voiced synth redolent of Pat Metheny or The Isley Brothers, with Rosenwinkel’s electric guitar improv reaching up to an azure sky; and Martins’ tremulant falsetto sails across the gently bass-driven gossamer-sustained layers of Kama. The contrasting pop chirpiness of Casio Vanguard and Summer Song quirkily recall the pop-jingle of ’80s band Johnny Hates Jazz, though brimming with invention and detail, whilst Methenyesque Chromatic B‘s babbling electric bass underpins its Latin piano-and-guitar pulse. Shadows-style riffs support Rosenwinkel’s affirming vocal in purposeful Hold On (“…and you know we’re not alone”); and the folksy tenderness of Ezra, dedicated to his youngest son, is similarly uplifting (“live each day with joy and laughter”) as Mark Turner’s tenor sax extemporises broadly over a mid-rock groove.

By now, it’s possible you’ll be hooked… only to discover Rosenwinkel still has four more appealing numbers to deliver – Little Dream and Casio Escher (both embellished by Amanda Brecker’s vocal dexterity), bossa shuffler Interspace and anthemically-closing Little B. An album which is both curious and distinctive, it leaves a beautiful impression of radiance and hope, and is described by its creator as “angels working for the light”.

Released in UK/Europe on 10 February 2017, and in the US on 30 March 2017, Caipi is available from Heartcore Records as well as iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Kurt Rosenwinkel acoustic guitar, nylon guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion, synth, Casio, voice
with
Pedro Martins voice, synth, harmonium, drums, floor tom
and guests
Frederika Krier violin
Andi Haberl drums
Antonio Loureiro voice
Alex Kozmidi baritone guitar
Kyra Garéy voice
Mark Turner tenor sax
Amanda Brecker voice
Eric Clapton guitar
Zola Mennenöh voice
Chris Komer French horn

kurtrosenwinkel.com

RazDaz Recordz / Heartcore Records – RD4618 (2016)

‘Klammer’ – Rick Simpson

Klammer

clamour ■ n. a loud and confused noise. ■ v. (of a group) shout or demand loudly.

IT WOULD SEEM rather off beam to suggest that this sextet resembled (in more conventional spelling) the above definitions; but they do provide a clue to their full-on, angular and often wondrously oblique approach to jazz.

Rick Simpson is a regular sideman on the London scene, as are his colleagues in this line-up – and saxophonists Michael Chillingworth and George Crowley are no strangers on the front line together (see recent release Scratch and Sift), communicating no-holds-barred creative grit and energy. The prospect, then, of them melodically heading-up the pianist’s original, unpredictable compositions is something to relish, especially in collaboration with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer David Hamblett.

Simpson’s broad musical understanding and appreciation provides a solid basis for his writing, though improvisation is a key motivator (as much at home with the music of Kenny Wheeler as Django Bates, or as inspired by post-bop as free jazz). So in this project, the avoidance of structure doesn’t signal ‘clamour’, but rather that the zesty compositions offer his colleagues considerable freedom – and it’s notable how, throughout this near-hour-full box of delights, arranged phrases can either meld or snap into the wide-open spaces of individual extemporisation.

The many rhythmic intricacies here must surely pose a knotty challenge, as evidenced in the first two tracks, Pins and Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators; and the furtive, jolting advancement of sax, vibes and bass (especially with Tom Farmer on board) resembles the excellence of Empirical. But, although Rick Simpson is happy to join the combined ‘klang’ of the ensemble, on Fender Rhodes, his pianistic inventiveness also regularly comes to the fore. So he shapes How Deep is Your Disrespect with the kind of sensitive, wayward fascination associated with John Taylor; and his ‘alarm’ ostinato in this number, picked up from Ralph Wyld’s vibes, is an attention-grabbing vehicle which sparks percussive excitement, as well as typical outlandishness from Chillingworth and Crowley (turn it up loud!).

A pianist’s approach to composition can clearly be picked out in slow-moving, spacial Orbital, as lush alto and sax harmonies are complemented by nebulous, star-glinting piano and vibes which are then sumptuously swelled by the whole ensemble; and aqueous, tremulant Rhodes in Sea Change binds together the evolving, painterly layers of a jewel-encrusted canvas. The complexity of volatile, irascible Greasy Child! Ugly Man!, with its simple yet provocative double-horn jibing, is riveting; so, too, is bright, snappy Unsustainabubble whose straight-ahead tenor and bass hook-up is immaculately delivered. Rings End is packed full of undulating intrigue, somehow suggesting a comedic movie accompaniment; and the easy, South African lilt of Surreal Estate (almost ten minutes in duration) is just the prelude to a many-roomed promenade, crescendoing to a synth-enhanced climax.

Shut out any other forms of, er, ‘klammer’… and revel in its spirited fullness.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 30 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
George Crowley tenor saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Rick Simpson piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, MS-10, glockenspiel, harmonium
Tom Farmer double bass
David Hamblett drums

ricksimpsonjazz.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-012 (2016)

‘The Space Between’ – Medbøe/Eriksen/Halle

TheSpaceBetween

WITH COVER ART suggesting a connection across a vast, oceanic expanse, trio release The Space Between brings together the artistic, atmospheric sublimeness of Norwegian-born Haftor Medbøe (guitars), Espen Eriksen (piano, harmonium) and Gunnar Halle (trumpet, voice) in a partnership forged from an extended line-up at the 2013 Edinburgh Jazz Festival.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Haftor Medbøe guitars
Espen Eriksen piano, harmonium
Gunnar Halle trumpet, voice

haftormedboe.com
espeneriksentrio.com
gunnarhalle.com

Losen Records – LOS 151-2 (2015)

‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)

‘In Cinema’ – Oddarrang

ODDARRANG_300

IMAGINE……. a vast landscape… panning around to take in distant mountains, forests and luminous skies… and a cinematic soundtrack portraying an ever-changing vista of climatic conditions… daybreak, sunlight, rainstorm, quiescence, afterglow…

This third outing from Oddarrang – ‘In Cinema’ – sees them building significantly on their previous releases, ‘Music Illustrated’ and ‘Cathedral’. The Finnish five-piece’s precise sound is delightfully difficult to define – maybe ‘experimental jazz’, perhaps ‘new age’ or even ‘folk jazz’. And, intriguingly, the shifting timbres and hues are created by a refreshingly atypical instrumental line-up: the masterly and lyrical lead of trombonist Ilmari Pohjola and cellist Osmo Ikonen soloing over strong-yet-sensitive layers of guitars, bass, synths, piano and harmonium. Composer/producer Olavi Louhivuori (also known for his work with the Tomasz Stanko Quintet and Alexi Tuomarila Trio) presides on drums as well as keyboards, his authoritative percussion a key element of the band’s identity.

The ‘new age’ tag comes from comparisons I can make with the early output of Mike Oldfield – the repeated guitar lines, percussion and plaintive melodies of third track Missing Tapes from a Highway Set, for example, reminiscent of ‘Hergest Ridge’ or its seminal predecessor ‘Tubular Bells’. But this is no imitation, for it lives and breathes by its own strengths – a hugely distinctive sound palette with a terrific sense of dynamics and intricacy; compositions often growing in intensity, such as Lasse Sakara’s guitar-led ticking timebomb of The Sage which eventually explodes in dazzling full colour.

Newly-released single Self Portrait is a joy to hear up-close, opening with a beautifully legato cello/trombone melody against a delicate wash of synths, sustained guitar chords and cymbals, before upping the tempo and crescendoing to a vocal, guitar-crashing conclusion. The potency of this (to my knowledge) unique line-up is that acoustic and electronic instrumentation melds so pleasingly and effectively – frequently it’s tricky to discern the overall make-up of the sound… which, to my senses, is a great achievement! Trombone and cello lines are so ravishingly executed, yet the sum of parts is where this album succeeds.

The misty, folksy beginning of the curiously-titled, eleven-minute Cultivate & Contemplate finds Pohjola and Ikonen in elegiac mood, whilst guitar and percussion again introduce and develop the band’s characteristic anticipatory momentum. Journey explores the full range of Oddarrang’s expertise, the pulsating intro giving way to a serene interlude before finally rocking it up to fever-pitch intensity, Louhivuori thunderously pushing the limits, electronics enhancing the play-out. Bassist Lasse Lindgren provides the writing for the slumberous final number, Quiet Steps – a charming bell-like melody which suggests, at the close of our journeying, a darkening firmament revealing constellations as far as the eye can see.

Oddarrang are embarking on a tour to accompany this remarkable new release (superbly produced for Edition Records by Olavi Louhivuori and Dave Stapleton, with beautiful ECM-like monochrome sleeve photography from Tero Ahonen) – see web links, below, for details. I certainly look forward to their upcoming live interpretations at Manchester’s Band On The Wall, as well as Kings Place, London – by all accounts, an experience not to be missed!*

*UPDATE: Oddarrang’s Manchester and London performances were moving and exhilarating in equal measure – highly recommended!

Digital release: 30 September 2013; physical release: 7 October 2013.


Olavi Louhivuori
  drums, piano, synths, harmonium
Osmo Ikonen  cello, vocals
Lasse Sakara  guitars
Ilmari Pohjola  trombone, guitars
Lasse Lindgren  bass, synths

http://www.olavilouhivuori.com/category/news/
http://www.oddarrang.com/

Edition Records (2013)